On asking the right questions

Long before digital cameras killed film, Kodak and Fuji were locked in a desperate battle for market share. Film camera and 35mm film sales climbed steadily through most of the 20th century, and In 1990, Kodak dominated with 90% share of the film market, but then things started changing:

Kodak was said to have done a survey to determine whether its color films were what pro and amateur photographers really wanted. […] The survey answers were overwhelmingly in favor of natural color or, as some might put it, what you see is what you want to get. Kodak continued to work for that accuracy.

Along came Fujicolor and Fujichrome, which at first were also striving for the same natural color. But then Fuji was said to have done some research of its own. Instead of asking photographers what they might like, Fuji was said to have made up sets of comparison prints and slides: One set showed color as accurate as Fuji could make, the other sets had varying degrees of enhanced saturation—richer, warmer, deeper colors; healthier skin tones; bluer skies, greener grass, redder barns.

That reporting comes from a 1992 article explaining why Fuji’s film was brighter and more saturated than Kodak’s…and how Fuji moved the market from underneath Kodak.

David Ogilvy had thoughts on that:

People don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.

Today we call Fuji’s approach to market research “behavioral,” and we’ve built tracking into most every app and service we interact with so that product managers can test everything, all the time. That behavioral data can help us avoid the mistake Kodak made, but we still risk misunderstanding why people click one thing over another1, and we need to be especially considerate of the risk that we can only see results for what’s on the menu and we don’t know why a user clicked.

Also see: people wanted VCRs that rewound faster, they got DVDs instead.